Westminster’s guilty news pleasure will turn to 5G technology for the next stage of its “evolution” as the UK’s political media sector becomes even more competitive.
Guido Fawkes founder Paul Staines told FN that he wants to develop the SW1-focused outlet into a “boutique news service in video” by broadcasting via an iPhone 12, microphone and tripod set-up from Westminster Hall in the heart of the Palace of Westminster.
The move will allow his reporters, namely Tom Harwood and Christian Calgie, to provide live and quick reports as the UK’s political class leave Prime Minister’s Questions, select committee hearings and fiery debates in the House of Commons.
That is the plan at least since the Speaker of the Commons will have to give Staines and his small crew the go-ahead and the editor turned chief salesman still has to “figure out” how he will generate revenues from this particular enterprise. “We may do video to drive traffic [to the website], although I expect more video ads from our existing client base,” he said.
Founded in 2004, Guido earned its mischievous reputation as a gossip blog, but it has since developed into a multi-vertical website covering environmental issues (via GaiaFawkes), Brexit (via EuroGuido) and the journalism industry (via MediaGuido, which first reported breaches of Covid-19 restrictions by a small number of Sky News staff).
There was a short-lived foray into covering the technology industry, but, as Staines put it, “there is no news in government IT failure and all of the hardware news comes out of the West Coast [of the US], and we’re not going to beat them”.
Despite a popular City readership, a move into business coverage is definitely off the cards since Staines doesn’t “fancy getting a lawyer letter everyday” . The increase in video content, meanwhile, has been a “long held ambition” of Staines.
“[We’re] a bit of a newswire since a third of our content is aggregation where we will clip things from the news shows and it’s like we are curating it in real-time for everybody,” he said. “You don’t have to go anywhere else for it. The other third of it is original news and the final third of it is the gossip that everyone pretends not to be interested in but has actually made my fortune.”
A podcast in the shape of Guido Talks has been another recent development for the outlet, with a weekly round-up of the political news initially starting because “there was nothing better to do during lockdown”.
The venture isn’t “commercial” at the moment, Staines remarked, but the team is “learning from what we are doing” and between the audio download and YouTube videos they are typically generating around 10,000 listens/views per episode.
As for the core offering, the website hasn’t received the “crazy” traffic of 2019, with the almost endless Brexit back-and-forth in the House of Commons and the eventual general election last December between Boris Johnson’s Conservatives and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party. But Staines said that he didn’t see a revenue drop over 2020 in totality, despite Covid-19 and its negative impacts on advertising at-large.
“Programmatic advertising crashed off the cliff over March, April and May,” Staines said. But this was countered by a substantial uptick in display advertising (which typically makes up 60% of the outlet’s revenue) via the public affairs industry. “We’ve had a pretty good year,” he added.
2021 could be a bit more tricky, however, with the planned launch of the Andrew Neil-backed GB News and News UK’s own reported video news project. There is also existing serious competition via Politico’s London Playbook edited by former Guido reporter Alex Wickham, who has Staines’ “total respect” and is read by him in the morning.
“A lot of the stories that we would have got in the past now go there,” he admitted. “It’s difficult getting the staff moves, by way of example, because people now like announcing their appointments on Playbook. We are in a constant race with Playbook to find out which SpAd has gone where and why.”
So how does Staines keep his team, who collectively produce around a dozen stories per day, happy and not writing for the competition? “I try to keep them there by filling their pockets full of gold,” he said. “But there comes a point when that doesn’t work…[and] I don’t want to be a free training academy from the rest of the industry.”
And since 60% of Guido’s traffic now comes from mobile (thanks in part to a somewhat recent website redesign, newsletter and a strong presence on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn), will we be seeing Staines on TikTok anytime soon?
“Never say ‘never’ on TikTok, [but] I don’t think that suits us,” he said. Parler is also a non-starter since it “isn’t a nice neighbourhood” as is the adoption of a subscription model, which doesn’t work for “tabloid content” in Staines’ view.
Beyond the video plans, you should expect the outlet to “stick to its knitting” in 2021.
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